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Why iconic Urdu book stall, publishing house Maktaba Jamia died an 'unnatural' death

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed* 

We have all grown through the fragrant flavours and flairs of our childhood, one of them being our childhood mother-tongue historic magazines like, “Thakurmar Jhuli” (Bengali), “Khilauna”, Payam-e-Taleem" (Urdu), “Hans” (Marathi), “Parag” (Hindi), “Chitralekha” (Gujarati), “Chandamama” (Telugu), etc. I “drank” Urdu while suckling his mother and learnt the language not from any madrasa, school or college but from these publications only — my treasure trove!
As a passionate reader of Urdu magazines (especially children's), books and newspapers, I fondly remember the childhood memories of how during m formative years, I used to hold the index finger of my mother who used to take me to the Shahjahanabadi walled city's renowned Urdu book store, Maktaba Jamia Ltd, where, apart from "Payam-e-Taleem", it's Urdu monthly for children, files of many other children's magazines, namely, "Khilauna", "Toffee", "Shareer", "Chandanagri", "Ghuncha" etc were also available, sometimes with the yearly bundles bound together in a file, at cheapest prices.
Shocked to smithereens, the prized and prestigious Urdu book store has been closed down.
Since my childhood memories are deeply synched and entrenched with Maktaba Jamia, I remember three names associated with this heaven of Urdu, namely, Shahid Ali Khan, Haseen Haasaan Nadvi (also, editor, “Payam-e-Taleem”) and Ali Khusro Zaidi.
Zaidi, who had retired in 2014, as someone much concerned with Urdu, had been working on the stall till recently on a very petty salary, called it a day after that salary even stopped.
Whenever he reminded the authorities of that and conduct a meeting, he was looked down upon as if he were begging and even disparaged. He also stated that of the four appointees, one was pulled back for Jamia University, while another one quitted for want of salary. Yet another one had to cater to e-rickshaw to survive for managing square meals!
This reminds me of the incident, when Mumbai's Maktaba was about to be shutdown owing to the paucity of funds, he wrote about its pathetic state of affairs in the newspapers and the effort had worked as some concerned connoisseur of Urdu had helped by pooling in the required funding. As an Urdu lover, I can realise the excruciating agony of the workers at the Maktaba.

Maktaba on oxygen

Prior to this store, the stores in Mumbai and Aligarh too have been locked. What's inexplicable has been the fact that a huge central university like Jamia Millia Islamia has been at the helm of its affairs, yet the publication house had been in doldrums, on deathbed and finally dead! It is easy to blame Jamia Millia Islamia or maybe, an anti-Urdu ambience in the present governance!
Nevertheless, maximum blame of putting Urdu on oxygen lies with the so called connoisseurs of Urdu or "Urduwalas"; especially those Urdu professors, who, rather than bringing the Urdu medium schools to the level of elite English medium schools, admit their children in public schools.
Apartment from that, in Muslim households, nobody's bothered to get an Urdu daily or Urdu books and magazines. They don't teach their kids Urdu at home. The voices and correct pronunciation of Urdu are a past story! Urdu, as a language, needs a kiss of life, its languishing and pining institutions.
Renowned Urdu poets and litterateurs of the time — like Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Hafeez Jalandhari, Hasrat Jaipuri, Qateel Shifai, Ismat Chughtai, Salam Machhli Shehri, Razia Sajjad Zaheer, Krishan Chander, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Balwant Singh, Kanhaiya Lal Kapoor, Ram Pal, Sahir Ludhianavi, Ram Lal, Siraj Anwar, Basheshar Pradeep, Shafiuddin Naiyar, Kaif Ahmed Siddiqui, Dr Kewal Dhir, KP Saxena,sardar Rattan Singh, Joginder Paul, Basheshar Pradeep, Azhar Afsar, Prakash Pandit, Aadil Rasheed, MM Rajinder, Jilani Bano, Naresh Kumar Shad, Abrar Mohsin, Masooda Hayat, Ishrat Rehmani, Abrar Mohsin, Khaliq Anjum Ashrafi — besides many others — got their books published from Maktaba Jamia, as they used to be household names from 1940s to 1990s.

Language of heart, positivity

Urdu is not merely “sher-o-shairi" (poetics), “ghazal” (melodious rendition, “qawwali” (musical Urdu rendition), “masnawi” (story-telling) and “marsiah” (elegy). It’s the epitome of our “Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb” (composite culture). Urdu is a language born out of our syncretism accruing out of the commonality of cultures.
According to eminent lawyer and lover of Urdu Atyab Siddiqui, also a former legal advisor with Jamia Millia Islamia, writers, poets and authors are the eyes of the entire social, religious and political system and they have a huge responsibility towards lovers of language and literature. Urdu is a language of heart and positivity.
Hence, they have to be positive and shed all negativity. And as the most powerful source of information is the social and electronic media, like the authors, poets and journalists of other languages, Urdu writers, too, must toe the line of the internet. Fortunately, many of them are already connecting globally via smartphones and computers and taking the language to the masses.
Opines Prof Aquil Ahmed, director, NCPUL (National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language), the reason that Urdu proliferated and got promoted was owing to its secular character and a universal base in India and abroad. Today it happens to be one of the most popular of all international languages.
Not only that, Urdu is the voice of the sub-continent and has become an important link language for South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Regarding the closure of Maktaba, he states that the Jamia Millia Islamia authorities should join heads together to give it a fresh lease of life and that if any assistance is required from NCPUL, he would consider.

Urdu’s downfall

It's quite some time that the Maktaba has been shut, but except the concerned Urdu lovers like Mohammed Wajihuddin, Shrey Roy, journalists with "The Times of India", the "Wire" and Masoom Muradabadi, an Urdu author and blogger, hardly anybody seemed bothered.
Prof Shehzad Anjum, in charge with Maktaba Jamia, seems redundant and numb regarding the revival of the historic Urdu book store! Historically, Urdu newspapers made a solid contribution to the national cause during the freedom struggle. Urdu was basically India's lingua franca, a language of our amalgamated cultural heritage belonging to all Indians, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
After 1947, Urdu was hit by a communalist mindset thinking it was only the language of Muslims and responsible for Partition. This is entirely wrong — languages have no religion, region or community fixation. Urdu has to become the language of bazaar to attract big brands like Tata, Birla, Dabur, Infosys etc that don’t advertise in Urdu press. Unless Urdu is associated with profession and market and latest technology, it can’t prosper.

With "Rekhta", Urdu thrives

Nevertheless, Urdu, being a glorious language of composite culture and interfaith bonding, has been thriving and thronging as in "Rekhta" festivals, created by Sanjiv Saraf, an entrepreneur and business magnate.
Many litterateurs and lovers of Urdu like, Sharmila Tagore, Prem Chopra, Prasoon Joshi, Javed Siddiqui, Saurabh Shukla, Anu Kapoor, Salman Khursheed, Basheer Badr, Kumar Vishwas, Ustad Iqbal Khan, Farhat Ahsas, Faridoon Shahryaar, Danish Iqbal and many others are featured in the delightful Urdu activities including the "mushaira" (poetic congregation), "dastangoi" (story-telling), "nukkad natak" (play), critical appreciation, "qawwali" (musical saga), "ghazal sarai" (recitation of Urdu poetry), "baitbaazi" (poetic puzzling) and "nashist" (discussions). 
Let's hope, some saviour of Urdu, like Sanjiv Saraf, comes to the rescue of Maktaba Jamia Ltd!
Historically, Urdu newspapers made a solid contribution to the national cause during the freedom struggle. Having realized Urdu's importance, national leaders responded well to slogans like “Inquilab zindabad” by Subhash Chandra Bose, songs like “Sarfaroshi ki tamanna” by Ram Prasad Bismil and “Sarey jahan se achha” by Iqbal. Urdu was basically India's lingua franca, a language of our amalgamated cultural heritage belonging to all Indians, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
Pledge to rejuvenate, revive Maktaba!
Owing to his attachment with Urdu, I leave a proposal for the vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia that, if permitted, being a retired teacher, I would be ready to revive and rejuvenate Maktaba Jamia such that it regains its pristine glory.
*Former chancellor, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad; grandnephew, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad



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